STOCKTON -- At the moment Felix Padron's penalty kick was caressed by the upper right side of the net, his teammates sprinted onto the field and began a celebration never seen before from a Downey High soccer team.
The reason the reaction was unprecedented? Wednesday's victory over Franklin sent the Knights into the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I final for the first time in school history.
After playing the Yellowjackets to a 1-1 draw through two overtimes at Lincoln High Stadium, Downey outshot Franklin 5-3 in penalty kicks to advance to Saturday's 2 p.m. final, also at Lincoln. The Knights' opponent will be determined tonight.
Downey (13-5-4) shot first in the penalty kicks session, and both teams found the net with their first three shots. Knight Nick Cash then pounded his shot into the upper right corner for a 4-3 lead, and Franklin's Reynoldo Lopez sent his shot over the crossbar. Padron, suddenly facing a sudden-victory situation, easily beat Yellowjackets goalkeeper Christopher Hernandez for the historic win.
"When I first started coaching, this is what I wanted my teams to do," said Knights coach Adrian Romero, a 1993 Downey graduate. "I knew there was a lot of talent at the school, but we had trouble getting them out to play. This sport is there for them, and they come out here and have fun."
And for the players, winning in the playoffs has meant a trickle of attention for soccer, replacing a drought of indifference.
"We've never really been noticed at school by the teachers or anyone," said sophomore Sam Bell, who scored Downey's goal in regulation.
"We told some of our teachers that we had won our first playoff game, and they said they didn't even know we were in the playoffs. Maybe now we can get more people coming to the games."
Knights goalkeeper Diego Vera, the last line in a defense that hasn't allowed more than one goal in 20 consecutive games, also has noticed and appreciated the on-campus attention the soccer team has earned.
"It's big and it's motivating for us that we never allow more than one goal," said the senior. "We're getting a lot of attention at school that we've never had. Teachers are talking to us about soccer and wishing us good luck, and that's also motivation for us to keep winning."
Franklin (19-4-1) scored first in the 35th minute when Hugo Aquayo blasted a climbing, knuckling shot from 25 yards. Vera seemed surprised by the speed of the shot. He was able to deflect it, but the ball struck the bottom of the crossbar and fell almost straight down, landing inches beyond the goal line.
Downey waited until the 60th minute to respond. Hernandez stopped a shot from the left side, but gave up a short rebound. Bell was there to toe the ball into the left side for the equalizer.
There were few offensive threats from that point on, setting up Downey's memorable round of penalty kicks.
"I'm confident in my team and I'm very happy with their performance," Vera said, sounding more like a coach than a goalkeeper. "I'm ready to go to the section championship game and if we win or lose, we're still making history for Downey."